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Going to College? Estate Planning Starts Now

Graduation season is upon us. Launching your kids from high school to college is big and can make any parent nervous. The summer ahead will be filled with campus orientation, back-to-school shopping, and packing to move away from home for the first time. But there is one very important task that is usually never considered—appointing someone to manage their.

When my daughter was a freshman in college, she wanted to go on a road trip with friends. While she didn’t really need my permission, I was afraid if she got into a car accident, the police or the hospital could refuse to speak to me because she was over 18. I was a little dramatic, but I wasn’t wrong.

18-year-old college students who are leaving home for the first time probably don’t realize the independence they now have in the eyes of the law. As an adult, no one, including parents, has legal access to their medical, educational, or financial records.

Anyone over 18 years old should have at least some basic planning. Whether they want their parents to have access to their records or want to make sure their parents never have access, without the right paperwork, it’s a risk whether their intentions will be met. The most important planning tools for this purpose include a medical power of attorney and HIPAA waiver, a financial power of attorney, and a FERPA waiver.

A health care power of attorney allows your child to name a person, known as the “agent,” to make healthcare decisions on their behalf if they’re incapacitated and unable to make those decisions directly. If your adult child becomes incapacitated without a medical power of attorney, physicians will generally look to the closest family member to make the decisions. If there is no family, the hospital might ask the court to appoint a legal guardian—sometimes asking the court to appoint the hospital to serve as the guardian! In either case, a court could give someone responsibility for health care decisions that your child would never want. This is why having a medical power of attorney is so important.

HIPAA (aka The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) is a federal act that protects the privacy of your personal healthcare information. Doctors can’t talk to anyone about an adult’s medical condition without consent from the patient. A HIPPA waiver allows doctors to discuss that protected information with the person named in the waiver. If your child wants you to know the status of their health and are are unable to tell you themselves, this simple document will allow it. Anyone making medical decisions for someone else by power of attorney should also be able to see their medical history to be able to make the most informed decisions.

A durable general power of attorney gives the chosen agent access to basically everything, if included in the document. Things like bank accounts, cell phone records, and the ability to talk to insurance companies on their behalf, can make it easier to keep someone’s affairs afloat while they recover from an illness or injury.

Educational information is private too, under FERPA, or the Family Educational Right to Privacy Act. School records for people over 18 are private, even from the parents who may be paying tuition. A FERPA Release grants the named agent access to those educational records.

Before my daughter’s road trip, we discussed these four legal documents, and she decided to put them in place. If you have high school or college-aged kids, put this conversation on your to-do list before sending them off to college. It’s not complicated and can save a ton of anxiety and red tape should anything happen.

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